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RACE REPORT - Dalat Ultra Trail

The beauty of the Asia Trail Master series is it takes you to some wonderful places that would otherwise never see - and the Dalat Ultra Trail is no exception, making the perfect long weekend getaway. Read on for the race report from 2019 winner in 7:03 and a new CR, T8's very own John Ellis.

2019 Dalat Ultra Trail winner John Ellis

Photo credit: Asia Trail Master

Dalat was originally built as a French resort and sits at 1,500m above sea level in the Central Highlands, and the year-round temperate weather makes a nice change from tropical climate across the rest of Vietnam. It’s a small pretty town, still fairly hectic with mopeds buzzing everywhere, and a great base to explore the pretty local architecture, waterfalls and lakes. Xuan Huong Lake in town makes a great 5km running loop.

Onto the race itself, the Dalat Ultra Trail might possibly be the biggest trail race you’ve never heard of. In only its second year, there were an incredible 4,600 runners over the four distances, 10K, 21K, 42K and 70K.

Almost 80% of the participants ran the two shorter distances and, judging from looks of raw pure joy crossing the finish line, plenty of runners just taking up the sport. Trail running is just in its infancy here in Vietnam but you can sense the potential, given plenty of wonderfully scenic hilly terrain and a population of 90 million people, including last year’s Dalat Ultra Trail winner, Quang Tran, a very strong runner in his own right.

The 70K race is the headline race and, as a Super Trail race (extra points) in the Asia Trail Master series, gets a pretty strong international field, including elites from Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The prize pool of almost US$7,000 in cash and prizes probably doesn’t hurt either. The shorter races tend to be more of a weekend crowd, with plenty of Vietnamese flying in from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Like the locals do, the best way to travel is to fly into Dalat airport, which is an easy half hour highway drive into town. You’ll probably need to connect via one of the big Vietnamese airports if flying from overseas. Alternatively, you can fly into Nha Trang or Ho Chi Minh City, where it’s a 3 hour or 8 hour drive (sleeper options available) respectively.

The 70K starts early at 4am, which means a cold start waiting around for the gun, but also a few hours of cool running before things heat up. For us, it was 14C at the start, eventually topping our at 27C by 2pm, but a fairly dry heat, and quite manageable with lots of shaded trails.

The race starts with a short road section and then it’s straight onto rolling forest track, which is the bulk of the trail. There’s an ever changing mix of hard and rubbly, hard pack, and also soft pine needles underfoot, which keeps it interesting. The weather was quite dry for us, but a little pre-race rain would create a few slippery muddy sections, but otherwise it was not too technical. There are a also a few short connecting road sections and six easy (ankle high) river crossings, where you’ll just waste time trying to keep your feet dry - don’t worry, they’ll dry out pretty quickly. My favourite section was the downhill after CP4, which drops 250m in 4km, and is fairly straightforward so you can fly down!

In terms of elevation, there is only 2,300m D+ for the 70K. The elevation range from 1,300m to 1,700m shouldn’t require any specific altitude training, and also means there are no big climbs. It’s very much rolling the whole race. The largest ascent is 350m over 6km into CP4 so there’s nothing really steep and you should be able to get around the course easily without poles. You can check out the course GPX here.

This is very much a forest race and you’ll be rewarded with some beautiful panoramas of rolling hills and expansive pine forests throughout the race. There are also some interesting village run-throughs (complete with bemused but cheerful villagers) and quite likely some cool animal encounters. We saw village dogs (can be yappy but very timid), domesticated pigs, roaming cows and even a baby horse.

2019 Dalat Ultra Trail women's runner up Tahira Najmunisaa

Photo credit: Asia Trail Master

The checkpoints are plentiful with eight in 70km and a maximum distance of 12K apart. Supplies are fairly basic with water, Pocari, bananas and occasionally cup noodles, but at least the Pocari was full strength, which was unexpected for such a big event. If you like you’re own nutrition like gels or Tailwind, there is a dropbag at CP4 after 38km, so you won’t have to carry too much from the start. The mandatory kit is fairly straightforward as well so you can definitely run light - water, food, head torch, basic first aid kit, mobile phone and GPS device (which could include your mobile if you have downloaded the map). The T8 Sherpa Shorts were more than enough for me, but a Naked Band would work well too.

Course markings were generally very good, with signs or ribbons attentively placed every 200-300m. There were a few slightly confusing markings so we always recommend downloading the GPX to your watch, just in case.

Safety was good, with course officials on mopeds between checkpoints as an additional measure, and the organisation was generally excellent. There were a few minor instances where things could have been more efficient - like registration and drop bags - but overall was an impressive production and things went pretty smoothly. The finish line atmosphere, with pumping dance music, free physio massages, plus tasty food and drink available to purchase was definitely a highlight.

The lakeside race expo is a short walk from the city centre and is quite a big deal with most of the big international brands represented in small on-site shops and available for last minute purchases. On race day, runners congregate here to take shuttles to the start, with the organisers also putting on shuttles back from the finish line in Golden Valley.

For more information, visit the race website here.

T8 "Typhoon" Results - 2019

  • 1st - John Ellis, 7:03 (CR)
  • 5th - Henri Lehkonen 8:00
  • 9th - Mark Green 8:10

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